Understanding Larry McMurtry
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85 pages

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An inviting, detailed analysis of the work and characters created by this Pulitzer Prize–winning writer

Best known for his Pulitzer Prize–winning novel Lonesome Dove and his Academy Award–winning screenplay for Brokeback Mountain, Larry McMurtry is the author of twenty-nine novels, three memoirs, two collections of essays, and more than thirty screenplays. In Understanding Larry McMurtry, Steven Frye considers a broad range of McMurtry's most important novels and offers detailed textual analyses of works such as Horseman, Pass By, The Last Picture Show, Moving On, and Lonesome Dove to reveal the manner in which McMurtry engages the human condition.

Characters are at the heart of McMurtry's fiction, whether they are nineteenth- or twentieth-century ranchers, modern rodeo men, or women grappling with the angst and confusion of life in the suburbs of Houston. He has created characters rich in texture, such as Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call, not only to encourage an understanding of the persistent force of American mythology but also to transcend type so that they emerge as quintessentially human figures grappling with circumstances beyond their control.

McMurtry portrays with depth and insight the conundrums of the modern moment and its relation to heritage, and he deals as well with the intensities of the human mind as it negotiates with a complex and sometimes indifferent world. In Understanding Larry McMurtry, Frye offers a comprehensive treatment of one of the most important living authors, one who has emerged as a central figure in a rich and compelling contemporary canon.



Publié par
Date de parution 15 avril 2017
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781611177633
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,2100€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Matthew J. Bruccoli, Founding Editor
Linda Wagner-Martin, Series Editor
Steven Frye

The University of South Carolina Press
2017 University of South Carolina
Published by the University of South Carolina Press
Columbia, South Carolina 29208
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Frye, Steven, author.
Title: Understanding Larry McMurtry / Steven Frye.
Description: Columbia : The University of South Carolina Press, 2017. Series: Understanding contemporary American literature | Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016054278 (print) | LCCN 2016054681 (ebook) ISBN 9781611177626 (hardback) | ISBN 9781611177633 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: McMurtry, Larry-Criticism and interpretation. BISAC: LITERARY CRITICISM / American / General. | PERFORMING ARTS / Film Video / Screenwriting.
Classification: LCC PS3563.A319 Z66 2017 (print) | LCC PS3563.A319 (ebook) DDC 813/.54-dc23
Front cover photograph: Larry McMurtry driving to a book sale, Dallas, Texas, 1968. Danny Lyon/Magnum Photos
For Kristin, Melissa, and Thomas, with love
Series Editor s Preface
Chapter 1 Understanding Larry McMurtry
Chapter 2 The Early Works
Chapter 3 The Thalia Novels
Chapter 4 The Houston Trilogy
Chapter 5 The Lonesome Dove Saga
Chapter 6 Other Works
Selected Bibliography
The Understanding Contemporary American Literature series was founded by the estimable Matthew J. Bruccoli (1931-2008), who envisioned these volumes as guides or companions for students as well as good nonacademic readers, a legacy that will continue as new volumes are developed to fill in gaps among the nearly one hundred series volumes published to date and to embrace a host of new writers only now making their marks on our literature.
As Professor Bruccoli explained in his preface to the volumes he edited, because much influential contemporary literature makes special demands, the word understanding in the titles was chosen deliberately. Many willing readers lack an adequate understanding of how contemporary literature works; that is, of what the author is attempting to express and the means by which it is conveyed. Aimed at fostering this understanding of good literature and good writers, the criticism and analysis in the series provide instruction in how to read certain contemporary writers-explicating their material, language, structures, themes, and perspectives-and facilitate a more profitable experience of the works under discussion.
In the twenty-first century Professor Bruccoli s prescience gives us an avenue to publish expert critiques of significant contemporary American writing. The series continues to map the literary landscape and to provide both instruction and enjoyment. Future volumes will seek to introduce new voices alongside canonized favorites, to chronicle the changing literature of our times, and to remain, as Professor Bruccoli conceived, contemporary in the best sense of the word.
Linda Wagner-Martin, Series Editor
Understanding Larry McMurtry
After years away from home-writing novels, running his own bookstore in Washington, D.C., consulting on film adaptations of his many works-Larry McMurtry returned to Archer City, a small town in north Texas that had sustained itself for more than a hundred years on the cotton trade, ranching, and the oil industry. Archer City is in many ways an emblem of the American small town: vibrant and hopeful at its inception, a gathering place for trade and extravagant hope, wistful in its twilight as the pace of urbanization took people elsewhere. Like many towns throughout the country, it remains alive and by no means warrants an epitaph. But a description of it might best emerge from the language of historical memory. In Willa Cather s terms, Archer City takes its deepest breath from the precious, the incommunicable, past. McMurtry s departure and return should come as no surprise, because of course he never really left. Some of his most memorable novels transform Archer City into the fictional Thalia and Anarene, and, like many American authors before him, he found that to leave was the best way to stay. Distance seems to inspire that peculiar alchemy of imagination and understanding that in the end amounts to wisdom and beauty.
In many of his important works, Larry McMurtry portrays his native Texas, both past and present, with a vivid unvarnished realism and, in doing so, imbues the region with a meaning perhaps not immediately observable to the naked eye. Barren range becomes the interior landscape of mind, full of natural detail and texture, a strangely permanent resource of personal identity. For McMurtry, Texas always remains itself, but it emerges also as a grand symbol for the American West and indeed the nation as a whole. 1 McMurtry s capacity to create characters bound in time and place but richly interior in their psychological complexity places him alongside the most notable practitioners of the novel form. People remain his primary subject-living, breeding, working, bleeding, and dying, always seeking, deeply flawed but sympathetic, frequently comic and endearing. They are universals to be found anywhere, yet they are distinctly American in their intense capacity for hope, their commonality, and their humble grandeur. As an author grounded in the novel form, Larry McMurtry has become that rarity among contemporary authors: a popular novelist to be compared with some of the finest architects of the human drama.
Life and Career
Larry Jeff McMurtry, the son of William Jefferson McMurtry Jr. and Hazel McIver McMurtry, was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1936 and was raised in Archer County, Texas, where he was first exposed to the people and places he would later fictionalize in many of his novels. He was only one generation or so removed from the age of the great cattle drives, and much of the culture remained, transposed in certain ways into the time of the oil derrick but retaining many of its former cultural contours: the roughness, violence, intolerance, the emphasis on courage and hard work, even the religious fundamentalism. He was also exposed to a practice that influenced more than his themes and permeates his writerly practice-storytelling and humor laced with elements of the tall tale. These experiences, together with the historical circumstances of historical change in the Southwest that he observed, became central to his work. Located near Archer City, his first home was remote and rural. McMurtry s grandparents, who were originally from Missouri, moved into the area in 1889, buying a parcel of ranch land near Windthorst, eighteen miles from Archer City. His parents first made their home on the paternal ranch, and McMurtry lived there until he was six years old. His mother wanted a more social environment where she could indulge her love of bridge and conversation, and in 1942 she convinced McMurtry s father to move the family to Archer City, where McMurtry s three siblings were born. Archer City was a fairly typical small town of its time, tremendously religious, preoccupied with rigid moral codes with respect to sexuality, highly provincial and insular. Thus, in his childhood, McMurtry alternated from the open range to a provincial American town. In his earliest years, he felt vaguely out of place among the rough, independent, hardworking, yet anti-intellectual West Texans who lived in the outlying country. Always by his own admission bookish, he experienced the writer s capacity to observe and remove, which served him well later and fostered his ability to draw the interiors and exteriors of his often idiosyncratic characters. McMurtry s childhood was not atypical, and he seems to have demonstrated a range of abilities and interests. In high school, he participated in sports, lettering three years in basketball and one year in baseball. He was a member of the 4-H Club for four years and was both the editor of and a writer for the school publication Cat s Claw . Many of his contemporaries in youth became the prototypes for his characters. One of his female classmates, Ceil Slack Cleveland, is thought by many scholars to be the basis for Jacy Farrow in The Last Picture Show (1966). Another classmate, Bobby Stubbs, was the pattern for Sonny Crawford in the same novel and for Duane Moore in Texasville (1981) and Duane s Depressed (1999) and, according to McMurtry, inspired other characters as well. McMurtry and Stubbs were apparently close, and before Stubbs s death, in the early 1990s, McMurtry inscribed books to him. In 1954 McMurtry graduated with honors from Archer City High School and enrolled for a short time at Rice University, in Houston, later transferring to North Texas State College (now the University of North Texas), where he studied literature and worked on student publications, including the unauthorized Coexistence Review and the student journal Avesta . At that time, he began writing short stories.
In 1959 McMurtry married Jo Ballard Scott, and the couple had one son, James Lawrence McMurtry (named after Henry James and D. H. Lawrence), before divorcing, in 1966. While married to Scott, McMurtry earned an M.A. degree from Rice University, having written his master s thesis, Ben Jonson s Feud with the Poetasters: 1599-1601. He was awarded a prestigious Wallace Stegner creative writing fellowship at Stanford University, where he became friends with Chris Koch (the author of The Year of Living Dangerously ) and Ken Kesey (

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